Thursday, July 17, 2008

Trade Speculator - Did Anyone See That Coming?

At least at this point?

Baseball Digest Daily is reporting that the Oakland Athletics have traded Joe Blanton to the Philadelphia Phillies for minor leaguers Adrian Cardenas, Matt Spencer, and Josh Outman. This is a trade that I truly cannot understand from the Oakland Athletics perspective. Not because of the haul they received, but rather, because of the value of Blanton. That is, Blanton is clearly having the worst season of his Major League career, which one would think would limit his current value.

All that being said, let's look at this deal more closely to discover what both teams were acquiring and giving up.

Obviously, Joe Blanton is the most valuable current piece of this trade. The 27 year old innings eater has an affordable contract, and has been a fairly solid pitcher throughout his major league career. In fact, even during this season, which has seen his strikeout rate be the lowest of his career. However, despite a high walk rate then 2007, Blanton still posts one of the best base on balls per nine innings in the league, and is well above league average.

Blanton also brings to the table durability. Having pitched in 32 or more games in each of his three MLB seasons, and well on his way to a forth straight-in today's game, that is a dying breed. Even Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus rated Blanton as a 'green' entering this season, all but assuring readers that Blanton would not miss a start in 2008.

The shift to the National League should not really help Blanton, as he moves to a team with a far inferior defense, in a far less favorable park. That is not to say we should expect a Barry Zito-like collapse, but I don't anticipate Blanton making a whole lot of noise in the National League.

Blanton will slide into the Phillies rotation as the #2 starter but will perform more like a #3 or #4. Phillies fans have to hope that the front office does not get some strange idea that this trade allows them to move Brett Myers to the bullpen, unless he struggles again.

The most intriguing player the Athletics received is second basemen, Adrian Cardenas. According to the Athletics press release, Cardenas was "named the Phillies' number two prospect by Baseball America prior to the 2008 season." Not yet 21 years old, Cardenas has put together a quality Minor League career in rising to #2 in a fairly weak Phillies prospect pool.

Entering the 2007 season, John Sickels rated Cardenas as a B- prospect, claiming that his 'quick bat' could result in a quick climb through the minors. Apparently the quick bat impressed Sickels some more, as Cardenas jumped up to a B level prospect entering the 2008 season and, like Baseball America's rating, sat as the #2 prospect in the Phillies organization-and only one of four to be rated higher then a C+.

Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein was slightly less optimistic, rating Cardenas as a 3 star prospect, the third best in the Phillies organization. Here is what Goldstein has to say about Cardenas,
The Good: Cardenas has good bat speed and outstanding hand-eye coordination, using his strong wrists to whip the bat through the hitting zone, leading to consistent hard contact with gap power to all fields. He has a good approach and solid pitch recognition, and gets high grades for his makeup. He shows decent speed once he gets underway.
The Bad: Drafted as a shortstop with the knowledge that he'd have to move, Cardenas continued to struggle with the glove on the right side of the infield in 2007, and need to improve his reads off the bat and his work around the bag. He's a little on the smallish side, and doesn't project for more than average power.
If someone gave this same description to me 7 or 8 years ago, I would have guessed they were talking about Marcus Giles. Two names appearing on Cardenas similarity score, who remind me of Marcus Giles, Frank Catalanotto and Jose Vidro. I'd say if the A's get the prime years of any one of those three players, they will be pleasantly surprised with this piece of the acquisition.

The second piece the Athletics acquired is 23 year old lefty Josh Outman. Having been sent back to double A this season, Outman needs to refine his control while further working on missing bats. Both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus rated Outman as the Phillies forth best prospect entering the 2008 season.

Kevin Goldstein had the following to say about Outman,
The Good: Outman has excellent velocity for a southpaw, sitting at 91-93 mph with his fastball, and touching 95. His secondary stuff is solid, as he gets decent two-plane break on his slurvy breaking ball and has a deceptive changeup. His unique delivery makes his pitches difficult to pick up out of his hand, and scouts like his competitive fire.
The Bad: Outman's mechanics come with good and bad. While the combination of his arm angle and release point make it difficult to throw anything straight, he also has problems throwing strikes with any consistency. He tends to work high in the strike zone, and Double-A hitters made him pay the price.
Like all Phillies prospects, there isn't a whole lot to love right now. With Outman's future likely as a reliever, working high in the strike zone is not something that will result in a lasting career. At least not in high pressure situations.

Being slightly more optimistic, John Sickels rates Outman as the Phillies third best prospect for the 2008 season. In doing so, raising Outman's rating from a B- in 2007 to a B in 2008, the same level as highly touted prospect, and fellow Reading teammate, Carlos Carrasco.

All that being said, there isn't a whole lot to currently get excited about with Outman. He's young, he's a lefty, and can throw relatively hard. So maybe Will Ohman?

Lastly, left handed hitting outfielder Matt Spencer (no relation to Kevin Spencer-image below). The 22 year old has been aggressively moved through the Phillies organization despite not having the statistics to truly back it up.

John Sickels rated Spencer as a C+ prospect entering this season, which is difficult to grasp what kind of value it holds. That is, the Phillies system is so weak, could some of the grades be overly generous in a they couldn't possibly be that bad sort of way?

Well, they are.

I managed to dig up Baseball America's rating for Spencer, he is sitting nicely at #28. As the 113th pick of the draft, it is somewhat telling of the Phillies current scouting department that Spencer could only climb top #28 on this list. Even though, according to Baseball Prospectus, Spencer was one of the eleven best value picks in the 2007 draft.

This trade all but closes the book on Billy Beane's infamous 2002 Moneyball draft. The Phillies did well in not giving away any assets that have any immediate potential within the organization. However when a team does such, they also traditionally do not acquire a true game changing talent in return.

My initial reaction is to state that the Phils won this deal in a landslide. Even upon further inspection, its tough to see what the A's are doing. Combine this with the Rich Harden deal of two weeks ago, and it appears Billy Beane and the Athletics are more concerned with quantity then quality.

Of course, we have all learned to never close the book on a Billy Beane move. No one can be certain what else is in the works, or what lies ahead for the players Beane has moved.

Sometime, however, Billy's 'stuff' (edited) just doesn't stick.

BallHype: hype it up!

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